Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hall Call: 4 get my vote; most big names don't

Being a Hall of Fame voter is never easy for anybody who takes the task seriously. And I do. 

Still, some years are more difficult than others, and this probably was the most challenging -- and most interesting -- ballot I've encountered in my nearly two decades as a BBWAA vote-caster. Between the steroid allegations and the sheer number of qualified first-year candidates, there were numerous tough calls.

Here's how I reasoned with myself as I first eliminated my non-candidates and then ultimately filled out my ballot. 


SANDY ALOMAR JR. … Highly intelligent future manager, only decent numbers.
JEFF CIRILLO … Solid role player.
ROYCE CLAYTON … Good-fielding shortstop but soft hitter.
JEFF CONINE … Solid player but stats fall short.
SHAWN GREEN … 2,003 hits and 328 HR but lacking run production.
ROBERTO HERNANDEZ … 326 saves but not dominant enough.
RYAN KLESKO … Valuable role player but only decent stats.
JOSE MESA … 321 saves but hardly dominant.
REGGIE SANDERS … Above-average player but only 983 RBI.
AARON SELE … Only 10 W per season and 4.61 ERA.
MIKE STANTON … Mostly a middle reliever and set-up man.
TODD WALKER … Defensive shortcomings and only OK numbers.
RONDELL WHITE … Proved that steroids don't help everybody.
WOODY WILLIAMS … Solid starter but mediocre record and ERA.


STEVE FINLEY … Outstanding outfielder with 2,548 hits, 304 HR and 320 SB but only 2-time All-Star and one top-10 MVP.

JULIO FRANCO … .298 hitter over 23 seasons with 2,586 career hits, but not nearly enough run production.

KENNY LOFTON … One of the best leadoff hitters in recent history but well behind Raines in most categories. 

EDGAR MARTINEZ … Possibly the best DH ever but his career HR (309), RBI (1,261) and slugging (.515) were hardly eye-popping.

DON MATTINGLY … Outstanding player but injuries and lack of run-production during the second half of his career derails his candidacy.

FRED McGRIFF … Hard to argue with most of his numbers, including 493 HR, 1,550 RBI, eight 100 RBI seasons. But only one top-5 MVP vote (and no top-3) and no truly “magic” numbers (2,490 hits, 493 HR, .509 slugging). Also, one of the worst-fielding first basemen I’ve ever seen. Sorry, Crime Dog fans, but I can’t shake the image of so many horrific plays when I covered his time with the Cubs.

LARRY WALKER … He’s close in many categories, and had a strong .965 OPS, but he was not quite dominant enough among his peers. Plus, his huge production at Coors Field skews all of his numbers.

DAVID WELLS … A fat man’s Curt Schilling: good clutch pitcher with a high career winning percentage. But his high ERA, pedestrian WHIP figure and low K total put him behind Schilling and Morris.

BERNIE WILLIAMS … Fine contributor to winning teams but quite short in major statistical categories.

That leaves the following 14 for serious consideration:

Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Mark McGwire
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Rafael Palmeiro
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Alan Trammell


JEFF BAGWELL … Outstanding career numbers but behind Fred McGriff in most categories. His HR total, 449, is not extraordinary for a first baseman. There is steroid talk but no proof, so my decision on this borderline case was tipped by his poor postseason numbers for a Houston team that desperately needed more from its leader to win pennants. The one year the Astros finally made the World Series, they did it without an injured Bagwell. The fact that he got his numbers in 15 seasons (McGriff needed 19), that he played much of his career in the Astrodome (a pitcher’s park) and that he finished in the top-5 of MVP voting three times puts him very close. I could consider him in the future.

DALE MURPHY … One of the great guys and honorable competitors. That his final year on the ballot coincides with the first year of so many infamous juicers, it is very, very tempting to give him a symbolic vote. And he certainly has some impressive accomplishments, including consecutive MVP awards. But his numbers simply fall short in so many areas, including batting average, hits, HR, RBI, OBP and slugging. The clincher: He ranks in the top 50 in only one major statistical category -- strikeouts.

LEE SMITH … He retired as MLB's all-time saves leader (since eclipsed), and that alone warrants serious consideration. However, he benefited greatly from the relatively recent trend in which closers became one-inning specialists. Closers are so specialized, I need a guy to be flat-out dominating in the vein of Rich Gossage, Rollie Fingers or Mariano Rivera to give him my vote.

ALAN TRAMMELL … A super-solid player who helped usher in the era of shortstops making major offensive contributions. Regardless of position, however, I have trouble voting for a guy who had only one 100 RBI season, one 200-hit season and two 20 HR seasons. Not a single one of his career numbers screams “Hall of Fame.” Super-solid is admirable but doesn’t equate to an all-time great.


BARRY BONDS … Statistical no-brainer but steroid use had a major impact on his numbers in the latter third of his career. Game of Shadows, the book that is considered the definitive chronicle of his juicing, said he began using in 1999 after he was jealous of the attention Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire received the year before. If that is true, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, Bonds already had incredible career numbers and was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Given all that, I almost surely will vote for him … just not this year. I never have been a voter who emphasized “first-ballot Hall of Famer” as being special, but I will in this kind of case.

ROGER CLEMENS … See my Bonds explanation regarding Hall of Fame numbers before he allegedly started juicing. Unlike Bonds, Clemens was completely cleared by a jury. Still, I’m guessing the true Clemens story has not been told yet, so I’m also going to deny him first-ballot Hall status. As an aside, one could argue that all the talk about him making a comeback next season is another reason to delay his Hall entrance.

MARK McGWIRE … He’s kind of the anti-Bonds/Clemens. His numbers were nowhere near Hall worthy until he started using his keister as a pin-cushion. An amazing 42 percent of his career HRs came during the four-year stretch when he was cheating and lying his head off. Given his one-dimensional skill set, it’s not especially difficult to leave the box next to his name unchecked. He’ll never get my vote, and it’s not just because of the cheating.

RAFAEL PALMEIRO … Although I try not to let steroid allegations alone overwhelm my ballot, I am quite convinced that pretty much his entire career was a fraud. So it’s easy for me to focus on his unimpressive OPS, WAR, slugging and postseason numbers and deny him my vote.

MIKE PIAZZA … For now, I’m going to hold off. There are enough steroid questions -- combined with a WAR ranked 179th all-time and a five-year fade at the end of his career – to make him less than a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my eyes.

SAMMY SOSA … That he was outed as a steroid cheat by the New York Times probably is damning enough in the eyes of most voters. Even if he never had put needles in his rump, however, the fact that he was caught using a corked bat suggests there is nothing he wouldn’t do to gain an unfair advantage. He was a horrible teammate, too. The juicing puts his career accomplishments in doubt and his lack of character clinches it for me: He’s not deserving of enshrinement, 600-plus homers or not.


CRAIG BIGGIO … The steroid whispers are barely audible and not a good enough reason to overlook the rest of his accomplishments. He has the fifth-most doubles ever (No. 1 among right-handed hitters), and also ranks in the top 21 in runs and hits. A multiple-threat player who had 291 HR and 414 SB. Unlike Bagwell, he was the spark plug of Houston’s drive to its only pennant. A multiple Gold Glover at second base who moved to other positions when the Astros had the need. Numbers are almost identical to those of Robin Yount, a first-ballot choice (albeit just barely).

JACK MORRIS … His stats – 254 wins, .577 winning percentage, 3.90 ERA – make him a borderline case. But he was a workhorse for the Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays, was one of the winningest pitchers in an increasingly hitter-friendly era and had some memorable clutch performances. I unashamedly admit that his 10-inning shutout of Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series – probably the most exciting event I ever covered – has influenced my vote. 

CURT SCHILLING … Like Morris, not a slam-dunk choice. Given that he posted only 216 regular-season wins, I wish his ERA had been lower than 3.46. Still, his strikeout total (15th all-time) and K-to-BB ratio (second ever) are impressive. As fewer and fewer pitchers worked deep into games, his nine seasons of 200-plus innings and 83 complete games also deserve mention. Finally, there was his incredible postseason success: an 11-2 record, the third-best postseason winning percentage ever, a 2.23 ERA and a crucial role on three World Series winners. In five postseason elimination games, he went 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA. How am I supposed to ignore those clutch numbers? I’m not, and I didn't.

TIM RAINES … In a team photo of best leadoff men ever, Raines would be featured prominently. His career numbers generally were more impressive than those of Lou Brock. Reached base more in his career than Tony Gwynn did and had an almost identical OBP. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out, every eligible player who reached base as many times as Raines did and had as high an OBP is in the Hall. Throw in his base-stealing – fifth ever with 808 and second all-time with a .847 success rate -- and he gets my vote.

So there you have it ...

Biggio, Morris, Schilling and Raines get my check marks; Bonds, Clemens and Sosa don't (though Bonds and Clemens might as early as next year).

Phew! That was exhausting!


  1. Thanks for your analysis and I would say you did a fine job with your votes. I agree with you on Sosa and McGwire - I don't ever want to see them in the HOF. They cheated us fans who they took along on that special 1998 season. I felt violated afterwards....bah.


  2. Thanks for being a loyal reader, Belle.

    Based on my conversations with fellow voters and on what we've seen in McGwire's vote totals so far, I don't think you ever have to worry about Sosa and McGwire being in the Hall!

  3. Of all players to spend at least 50% of their games at first base, Bagwell is tenth in home runs. That is extraordinary.

    1. That's a reasonable argument for his inclusion, Anon. There are plenty of others.

      In my mind had three borderline votes this time: Bagwell, Morris and Schilling. I opted against Bagwell but, as I said in my blog, I certainly might consider him in the future.

      Unless, of course, he gets in this time even without my vote. Should that happen, I congratulate him.

  4. "DAVID WELLS … A fat man’s Curt Schilling: good clutch pitcher with a high career winning percentage. But his high ERA, pedestrian WHIP figure and low K total put him behind Schilling and Morris."

    Wells: 108ERA+, 1.266WHIP, 5.8K/9, 3.06K/BB

    Morris: 105ERA+, 1.296WHIP, 5.8K/9, 1.78K/BB

    (Wells' playoff numbers are also considerably better. Of course, no one in their right mind would argue that David Wells is a HOFer, but that Jack Morris, he was gritty or a gamer or something. I dunno. I'm stumped.)

  5. Mike,

    I appreciate that you took the time to detail your case on each guy as a fan. I won't criticize the one pick of yours with which I disagree (Morris), particularly since I think your other three choices are excellent ones (in the case of Schilling, whom I agree is a borderline choice, I think his postseason stats aren't necessary, even if they are incredible).

    I do think Bagwell should be a slam dunk, and hope that your reconsideration next year includes adding him to your ballot. Most of the statistical analyses show he's one of the top 10, bordering on top five, first basemen ever to play the game. I also think you should re-examine the case that his post-season performance should push him out -- we're talking fewer than 130 plate appearances, often times against the Braves' other-worldly starters. Even when he was excellent (see the 2001 NLDS, where Bagwell got on base 8 out of 12 plate appearances), the team lost because they were inferior to those Braves teams. Bottom line, I think it's a small demerit, and the rest of the career was Hall-worthy.

    I also think Piazza should be a slam dunk, but think you'll reach that conclusion at some point as well. His WAR needs to be evaluated in context to his position. I'd also urge a quick check of his Similarity Scores -- you'll find it dominated by Hall of Famers.

    Finally, I urge you take a more in-depth look at Kenny Lofton if he's still on the ballot next year (I suspect that he won't be). I don't know if he's Hall-worthy, but think he merited inclusion in your serious consideration section. I would argue the same for Larry Walker and Fred McGriff.

    Thanks again, and best wishes.

    1. Anonymous:

      Thanks for the detailed, reasonable comments.

      The first step when I get my ballot is to look at the names and say to myself, "This guy is a Hall of Famer." or "This guy might be a Hall of Famer." or "This guy isn't a Hall of Famer." I guess some might call it the "smell test."

      Another thing: One of the cool things about these candidates now is that I covered all of them -- some at great length, such as Morris, Wells, McGriff, Lofton, Sosa and McGwire. I developed a feel for their games, for their roles with their teams and for their status among their peers that goes above and beyond stats.

      So I fully admit that this personal history plays a part in my selection. Guys who focus only on stats might not like that, but I think that's why the BBWAA was chosen for this task. Literally anybody can look at cold, hard numbers. I like to think we bring a unique insight.

      To me, Morris "feels" like a Hall of Famer to me while McGriff doesn't. Nobody who saw McGriff during his time with the Cubs would try to argue that he was a Hall of Famer -- even though he actually put up decent numbers. Meanwhile, many who saw Morris pitch with the Tigers in the 1980s and then pitch Game 7 for the Twins in 1991 believe he "feels" like a Hall of Famer. For more than a decade, every manager in baseball would have had Morris on his very, very, very short list of guys he'd want on the mound for the biggest games. How many managers would have said, "If only I can have Fred McGriff at the plate now"?

      Now, I don't only go on feel or smell, of course. I thoroughly vet stats. I do look at the sabermetrics, but I admit that I prefer RBI, HR, OBP, OPS, ERA and the like.

      Another thing: When I look at a guy like Lofton, I say, "He and Raines were very similar players but Lofton isn't as good a candidate as Raines. I'm voting for Raines. And until Raines gets in, I'm not voting for Lofton." Some might not consider that fair, but it's how I feel.

      As for Bagwell, you make a very compelling argument for him and others have said many of the same things to me. I didn't vote for Raines his first few years on the ballot and only after I was urged by knowledgeable people I respect to give him a closer look did I start including him. I did consider Bagwell quite seriously but I will give him an even closer look next year if he doesn't get in this year without my vote.

      As for Piazza, I suspect I will vote for him next year, along with Bonds and Clemens. I didn't really disqualify him by his WAR figure; I wanted to wait to see if there was any new steroid information in the next year before I gave him my check mark.

      Anyway, thanks again.


    2. Hey Mike, different anonymous here.

      I don't think any SABR folks would take you to task too hard for using those stats (besides RBI). The problem with RBI (and pitcher wins) is that it is so intertwined with teammate performance and opportunity. Players should get punished because they had the misfortune of not having many runners on base ahead of them

    3. ^Should not get punished, *yeesh*

    4. You're a joke of a HOF voter...seriously, Jeff Bagwell's post season stats kept him out for you? Do you know anything about baseball? Anything at all? Anything about sample size? His career consisted of thousands and thousands of ABS, and you keep him out because of a handful of post season at bats? Its voting decisions like this that make the BBHOF a joke.

      Give up your ballot for people who are actually smart and know something, anything about baseball.

      @bodman27 on twitter

    5. jack24:

      I highly recommend that you get a job covering baseball, keep it for more than a decade and then start voting for the Hall of Fame.

  6. Mike,

    Thanks for responding -- I wish more folks who wrtie and vote for the Hall would do so. I think it would help the case of the BBWAA greatly if more writers follow your precedent. I hope you continue to do this, and I would urge your fellow writers to do the same.

    I respect your point about Morris, even if I'm more of a stats person when it comes to Hall selection. You're right when you note that I wasn't there at the games, and I do recall as a kid reading stories where many people extolled the virtues of Morris at the time. But my caution on this issue comes from the fact that the consensus on Morris (or someone like Jim Rice, who probably benefited from a similar perception that during his playing career, people felt like he was a Hall of Famer) is one that the perception may or may not be appropriate after judging the player's entire career, which is why I suspect (and perhaps I'm wrong about this) the vote on players does not begin until they've been retired for five years. It gives people time to let the player's time in the limelight fade so he can be evaluated dispassionately. I don't think Morris' stats rate inclusion, though I know reasonable people have reached the opposite conclusion. I suspect he will get in now or next year, and I will be happy for him.

    I understand your points about McGriff and Lofton, although I think it is a travesty that Lofton will likely drop off the ballot, in part because I would like to see you have an opportunity to evaluate him after Raines gets in. On McGriff, I think his finishes in the MVP race(6 times in the top 10) merit some attention, as does the fact that he may be the hitter most hurt by the PED use of others (assuming he did not use).

    Glad to hear both Bagwell and Piazza will get more looks from you in future years.

    One more player of note -- I hope you take another look at Alan Trammell as well, and review the case others have made for him at this time next year. I think he's been hurt in part by having to be the predecessor to Cal and the shortstops who followed him.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to reading more on your blog.

  7. By the way, Morris and Rice weren't exactly friends of the media. Morris was a jerk and Rice was distant. I get a laugh when people accuse the BBWAA of voting for their "friends."

    I happen to like Trammell personally, got to know him when he was Piniella's bench coach in Cubbieland. He had a very nice career but his numbers just don't rate. If that's partly because he was victimized by those who followed him, that's a tough break.

    Take care.

  8. How anyone could consider Mark McGwire who had more strikeouts than base hits is beyond me, so I'm glad you left him off for non-steroid reasons.
    I liked you choices except Schilling, if Jack Morris had to wait this long, so does Schilling.

  9. That's reasonable, Ron. I voted for both, which I also think is reasonable. Thanks for reading.